Image: Slush – Sami Heiskanen, Jussi Hellsten, Kai Kuusisto, Petri Anttila

APEX Insight: In association with Finnair and West Entertainment, APEX Media produced a video to capture the top trends and emerging tech at startup conference Slush. We covered biometrics, AR, VR, deep learning and interviewed the organizers, speakers, startups and aviation industry players.

It’s important to connect with industry peers on matters of digital strategy at aviation-specific events, but there’s also something to be said for coloring outside the lines. Keeping an “ear to the runway” while monitoring other industries for signs of disruption are key to staying ahead.

This is exactly why, for the last three years, Finnair has been participating in Slush, a startup technology event that brings together around 20,000 tech-heads, speakers, investors and digital entrepreneurs from more than 130 countries, for a surreal few days in Helsinki every winter.

“There’s every possible reason to be here,” says Juha Järvinen, Finnair’s chief commercial officer and vice-president of the APEX Board of Directors. “This is one of the biggest tech events in the world and certainly one of the biggest in Europe … It’s a great opportunity for us to introduce our product but also get to know companies and see how we can learn and develop products together.”

Finnair understands the necessity of tuning into the tech sector and also accepts the fact that without risk there is little reward. By aligning with “fringe” events like Slush and by hosting numerous hackathons, the carrier has already learned a lot from the “just do it” mentality of the tech startup crowd.

“We’ve had three hackathons already this year,” Järvinen says. “One in Paris, one here [in Helsinki] and one in the US. There have been concrete benefits in distribution strategy, and we’ve developed some [functions] within our app and added new features. Now we’re looking at how to develop inbound tourism to the Nordic region, so we’re looking for different applications and service elements we can provide to customers.”

“Our industry has to become more agile and learn to fail sometimes.” – Juha Järvinen, Finnair

Finnair recently launched a chatbot operating with artificial intelligence. Finn “lives” in Facebook Messenger and was developed with Caravelo, a company that Wired named one of Europe’s top 100 startups in 2013. Using IATA’s New Distribution Capability, Finn answers frequently asked questions, learning as he goes, and referring to a human customer service agent if he gets stumped. The airline is also working with Finnish startup Ultimate.ai to develop another chatbot for internal use. This one will assist Finnair’s customer service agents by providing them with a selection of possible answers or courses of actions to solve a problem, getting a bit smarter each time a suggestion is selected or rejected by staff.

“Some of the things work, some of them don’t, but I think our industry has to become more agile, and learn to fail sometimes,” said Järvinen. “That’s traditionally very difficult for airlines because we are, of course, all about flight operations. But, when it comes to technical innovations we have to learn, fail, learn, fail. And we have to do it quicker, so we can actually get things out there.”

“Slushing Around With Finnair,”  was originally published in the 8.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.